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KPBS Commentaries

Not long ago, a bright young man was in my office to talk about his love life.

He mentioned that he had a crush on a girl and wanted to ask her out on a date. He said he didn't really have the courage to ask. He talked about how nervous he became in her presence and was afraid that he would just end up being one of her buddies. A true sentence to solitary confinement for a young man with hope: being in love with a girl who just wants to be friends.

He said that she'd just met another guy online and he wasn't sure what to do next, but he said that he couldn't get her out of his head.

He was looking straight at me, hoping that I'd say something profound, offer some counsel, some direction. Shifting his weight from one foot to another, just waiting. And looking at me.

I told him the perfunctory stuff, like taking her to a movie instead of dinner because in a movie, it's dark and you can grab things. I told him how to listen, pay attention as if you're being told a story. I even thought about telling him how to look: not too wide eyed, but keep your focus straight and watch yourself for fawning.

Then I told him something that just jumped out of my mouth. As he was describing the process of how this girl went from him to the internet to pick up with another guy, I interrupted, without letting him finish his thought, and said, "That doesn't matter. Love is analogue." He looked at me a little like a spaniel that catches a really high frequency in its ears.

While I was waiting for him to refocus, I explained the following.

Love is not a digital format. It's analogue. It flows on a contiguous groove. It's not something that you can fit together from pieces of compatibility. Compatibility is great, don't get me wrong. But people have come to the conclusion lately that, if you have a lot in common and are able to articulate your preferences, and put them down on paper, you'll find the love of your life. The pieces will somehow mesh together, and all of the qualities that you both have will magically form this synergistic unit of love.

Well, my friend, I'm here to tell you that this just doesn't happen. Love doesn't work like that. In fact, love never works like that. It's not an assemblage of parts. It's a creation out of nothing. Love happens when you are unaware, when the components of attraction, need, experience, space, time and grace come together without you or the other person managing it's occurrence. It grows from coming in contact with one another, wondering if what you thought you experienced the first time could happen again, thinking that maybe another meeting would regenerate those variables under the same formula of chance and happenstance. The first variable is a little luck, and the digital love formula lowers the luck into something more manageable. I don't have a problem with that. Commonality is necessary to sustain a relationship. But the second variable is wonder and question. And without the roll of the second, the components of the first are meaningless.

Love happens. People know where they are when they think they're in love. They can tell you with wonderful recall the experience of that love. But when they put words to the expression, the experience and the overall state of love, they always fall short. It isn't, "I love him because he likes flowers" or "I love her because she smells good." That's not it. The parts, when described, are meaningless. And the meaning, when broken down into its parts, is lost.

Do you want to know the best answer to the question "Why do you love somebody?" It is this: "I don't know, I just do. I just feel that way, and I can't explain it, but I do." That's the best answer you could ever have. It is an unexplainable phenomenon, but you know it when you feel it. You can't break it down. Love isn't a matter of your favorite color or if you like opera or how you eat your eggs. Love just is. No more.

If you feel that this wonderful state of emotion is within your sights, follow it. Ask the person out. Don't let this pass. Not for anything. You find them, ask them out, and remember what I said about grabbing stuff in the dark at the movies. Don't postpone this wonderful chance at the greatest gift the universe has to give. And, good lord, don't try to simplify or categorize or make manageable the details of this wonderful feeling.

After I explained this to my friend, he thanked me and left. I'm going to see him again. Soon, I hope. And I hope he asks her out. I hope he takes her to a movie. And I hope he falls in love.

And, for his sake most of all, I hope he never tries to figure out how it happened, but I hope he holds in his heart the moment he knew it did.

Ed McShane, a psychotherapist, is the author of A Coach for Your Heart: Loving and Practical Points to Improve Your Life on bookshelves soon. McShane's commentaries will be featured monthly on kpbs.org. You can contact Ed at ed.mcshane@gmail.com.

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